The master's faithful servants

Observations on Eastern Europe

There was a very good reason for the recent comment by Donald Rumsfeld, the US secretary for defence, that France and Germany are "old Europe", and that the "centre of gravity is shifting to the east". The reason is that America is already winning the battle for influence in the new Europe.

When communism collapsed, the EU elite was irritated. The collapse came at the same time as Europe's own Maastricht project, which had ignored Europe to the east of the Iron Curtain. Washington, by contrast, had a template in place for gaining influence in the new democracies.

With the onset of the cold war in the late 1940s, the US set about recruiting a Euro-Atlantic elite in western Europe as political, trade union and intellectual allies against Soviet communism. Since 1989, Washington has sponsored a successor programme for the ex-Warsaw Pact states - although this time it left out trade unionists, who are considered redundant in the absence of a communist rival.

Finance for everything from scholarships to the media and NGOs has been provided by the CIA from the 1940s to today - through appropriately deniable channels. Fifty years ago, America offered ways of reintegrating ex-fascists into European democratic politics, on condition that they support US goals including federal European defence and a com- mon market. After 1945, the US did not scrutinise too closely the past records of Europe's younger generation of ex- fascists. The same leniency lay behind the great recruitment and ideological retooling that went on across eastern Europe in the 1990s.

Is it so surprising, therefore, that today so many of eastern Europe's politicians who stand shoulder to shoulder with Washington were rising young stars of the communist parties until the Marxist locomotive of history derailed in 1989? Just as 1945 was once treated as Year Zero for aspiring politicians who toed the transatlantic line, so now the official biographies of the east's leaders begin in 1989.

For instance, Poland's president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, was a minister under General Jaruzelski in the 1980s, when his current prime minister was in the Politburo. He now declares: "If it is President Bush's vision, it is mine." Other prominent ex-communist apparatchiks across the region repeat oaths of fealty to America as once they parroted the Brezhnev line. Slovakia's long-serving foreign minister, Eduard Kukan, is always in the front row of those backing the US use of force, but received his diplomatic training in communist Czechoslovakia, and became ambassador to Mengistu's Ethiopia.

The only prominent post-communist politician to buck the trend was the Czech Republic's pioneer of market reform, Vaclav Klaus, who refused to vote for a resolution backing war with Iraq. But Klaus was never a member of the party, and so does not need to prove his pro-western credentials.

Spain went through a similar process of transformation after 1975. In the US, it is often reported that America's favourite European leader is not Tony Blair, but Spain's Jose MarIa Aznar. Aznar may come from the opposite end of the political spectrum to eastern Europe's born-again post-communists, but the mental leap from young Falangist under Franco to free-marketeer today is much of a muchness with the transformation from eager komsomolchik to market democrat.

All this will be of little comfort either to Eurosceptics hoping to slow European integration or to supporters of an EU superstate that could act as a counterweight to America. The candidate countries for EU entry in 2004 are going to be uncomfortable partners for both sides. They will back the American agenda for a united Europe with a clear foreign and economic policy - one set in Washington.

Mark Almond is a lecturer in modern history at Oriel College, Oxford